Outsider, oil on canvas

“When you look into her eyes you can see two different messages.” –Mansour Bakhtiar

Hague-based self-taught painter Mansour Bakhtiar has been painting for 44 years, during which time his style evolved from realism to surrealism. The major theme in his paintings today is a search for duality. Through this theme Bakhtiar is exploring the essential questions: Who are we? Where do we come from? What is our purpose?

The theme of duality takes on many forms in his paintings. The ‘Outsider’ depicts someone with a clearly visible duality. Her striking pose, the cut of her dress and the mesmerising details of the background, do not conceal her duality.

Let’s look at his latest painting, which is still in progress and doesn’t have a title yet. So, I will reference it as ‘Untitled’ for the purposes of this article.

In the ‘Untitled’, Bakhtiar is sitting in the middle of the room painting without a canvas, he is painting his world. A big wall painted in Japanese red is dominating the composition. There are cats and birds present in the painting. They do not hold a symbolic meaning, other than Bakhtiar’s close connection and love for nature.

On one side of the wall we can see scraps of newspapers depicting famous historical figures, Marx, Kennedy and Hussein crumpled in a cage. “We have to learn from history only once. We have to look to the future. We cannot walk towards the future, looking back.”- explains Bakhtiar.

Bakhtiar describes the duality found in the painting as follows: “You can see that I am a prisoner inside  the red wall. But you can also see that the prisoner has a very big space to get out. That is the duality of things: I am closed but on the other side I am free.”

In the middle of the composition, we see the Eve of today; she does not seem happy, yet she is proud and present in her existence. There is a sense of misplacement in the painting: heavy associations and messages are painted with beautiful happy colours.

“This is reality. We make everything beautiful, but everything is not in its place.”

The compositions of Mansour Bakhtiar’s paintings are inspired by his palette of colours. Red has a particular meaning. Red lines in his paintings symbolize the limit, the point of no entry or no exit. We can see the red line in Effort.

The man has a thick wooden head and we can see a trail of birds that died in the attempt to get inside and make a nest. However the man’s body language suggests innocence. It’s yet another manifestation of duality. ‘Fear of loneliness’ is a painting that speaks to our deepest emotions. “We are afraid to be alone, so we play an instrument, we cope, we create.’’ In Bride, Bakhtiar explores the duality in a different manner. We can see a woman right before her wedding; we catch her in a moment of doubt.


Fear of loneliness, oil on canvas


Effort, oil on canvas

Shades of red are also prominent in the painting No Comment. The woman in the painting doesn’t have a head, she doesn’t have an identity. She only exists in relation to the man, who doesn’t see her as an individual and only cares about her body. Yet, somehow the woman is sitting comfortably in the chair; her posture suggests the mundane unawareness of existence. The contradiction between the normality of her position and her absence creates yet another dimension for duality.

No Comment, oil on canvas


Bride, oil on canvas

In essence, Bakhtiar’s search for duality is a quest to understand human nature with all its contradictions. “We are not just one person”- says Bakhtiar. And indeed our narrative changes with each interaction, we are all the different stories we tell; in a way we are all paintings in progress.

About the artist

Mansour Bakhtiar was born in the Bakhtiari region of Iran 200 km away from Isfahan into a prominent family of Iranian nobility. Due to the turbulent political situation in Iran since the late 1970s, the Bakhtiari family could no longer safely stay in the country. Mansour moved to the Netherlands in 1984. Now he lives and paints in The Hague at his Atelier ‘Incognito’.

Encouraged by his mother, Mansour started painting when he was 15 years old and took on painting professionally in 1981. In 1982, he also became an art teacher. His early works reflect the motifs of the Iranian heritage. Fascinated with the laborious and intricate work of the carpet weavers, Bakhtiar created a series of paintings depicting ornamental Persian carpets. Carpets are still present in his later works, as a connection to his roots. However, his painting style has transformed significantly over the years, influenced, by surrealism and particularly Salvador Dali.

Bakhtiar enjoys living in The Hague, although even after 32 years in the Netherlands, he doesn’t feel quite at home here. “There is a very big distance, between me and the Dutch person. If I say, for example, blue, sometimes I think they are not thinking that blue is blue, they think blue is yellow, that is the feeling I have.”


Malika Suleymanova